Sure, Gmail is great — but its contacts manager is far from a best-in-class web app. Many people have had to suffer through de-duping a messy system that pulls in everyone you've ever emailed, anyone you may have dropped in a Google+ circle, and the actual, fully-fleshed out contact cards you may have added over the years. Thankfully that's all changing: Google just announced that it is launching a completely revamped contacts interface, and you can jump into a preview of the new app now.
Aside from a sweeping, Material Design visual overhaul (the Contacts page feels much more like the new Inbox email system than the old Gmail interface), the biggest new feature is a much improved duplicate finding feature. When you first log on to the new Contacts page, it'll alert you to the number of duplicates you have in your contact list and let you go one-by-one through them to merge the relevant details. I gave it a quick try and it worked fast and seemed pretty smart about gathering contacts that could benefit from a merge. If you're going through your contacts and realize that Google's tool missed some duplicates, merging them is as easy as checking off both contacts and hitting a "merge" button at the top of the screen.
Google also says it'll help automatically keep info up-to-date in your contact list by pulling things like job titles and email addresses (if they're publicly shared) from a user's Google profile (or a Google+ page, as long as those still stick around). It's also smart enough to surface recent email conversations directly in an address book card for quick reference.
The new Contacts page keeps everything that you've set up under the old Contacts interface intact, so you won't lose any groups or starred contacts. The top of the page is your starred contacts, followed by those you email most frequently, followed by a long list of all of your contacts, including people you've placed in a Google+ circle. While Google has improved the integration with Google+ contacts, I personally tend to "follow" a number of people I don't know personally as well as a few brand pages, and I could do without those showing up in the Contacts list. However, Google has finally banished all of the random people you've emailed with over the years from your contacts list, which is great — I definitely don't need to remember the email address of that guy from Craigslist I bought some cheap DVDs from seven years ago.
But overall, there's no doubt this is a big improvement over Google's old contact tool. Probably the most frustrating thing about using Android for me was never feeling like I had a good, well-organized contact list — it was just too cluttered and messy of an interface for me to ever get it somewhere I felt comfortable with. I've only spent a few minutes with the new Google Contacts tool, but I'm already pretty confident it's a big step forward over what Google previously offered. You can check out the new Contacts feature now, but Google Apps customers will have to wait — it's only working with standard Gmail accounts for now.